The “New Atheists” – people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and of late, Christopher Hitchens – have been making the news now for a couple of years, as their books promoting their strain of anti-theism can be found on endcap displays and best-seller lists everywhere. While some of you who are arguably wiser than myself may not be familiar with these guys, I’m sure many of you are. I started paying attention to them initially due to my old friend Mike who, when we reconnected after many years, advised me that he had become an atheist. I’ve never been big on apologetics, but found some of the debates – much of which involved the creation-evolution issue – somewhat stimulating. However, I think that the term “New Atheists” should be changed to “Inane Atheists.” While some of them at times can sound wise and philosophical (apparently, at least, to other atheists) the majority of their arguments have proven to be little more than atheistic bedtime stories, concocted to provide the same type of comfort they charge religions with fabricating.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is correct: There is nothing new under the sun. While the packaging has changed, there is nothing new about the disbelief in God, and the Biblical advice on the subject is still sound. The Psalmist is on point as is Paul. Today, atheism, the belief that there is no god of any kind, also includes the belief that nothing supernatural or non-material exists. This, of course, describes a lack of belief, or a negative belief, if you will. The positive – what they do believe – would be called philosophical materialism, or sometimes naturalism. As I’ve described before many times, materialists are merely myopic; they have chosen to believe only in what they think has physical properties. Atheism is, in many ways, epitomized by the Golden Calf, and yes, it is a form of idolatry, exchanging the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creation. I’m sure the argument would be made that they do not worship anything, but of course that is foolishness as well; the natural processes of the universe and reason itself are put in the place of God.
If anything is new about today’s atheists, it is that they are moderns (as are we all in the West). As I’ve set forth in my Teacup Analogy, their arguments (for example, lately I’ve read a ridiculous series of posts trying to apply IDQ principles to Christianity and the Bible) must be brought completely within modernism in order to function. If you hold to a philosophy that is skeptical of their epistemology, they sound quite ridiculous. They succeed only when they manage to trap some poor soul into adopting their presuppositions; as we in the West are all moderns to a degree, it is occasionally possible to suck some unsuspecting Christian into believing that Christianity is properly understood only within a modern context. John Loftus, at Debunking Christianity, is at least honest about that point when he says that modernism is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity. Of course, John presumes modernism, and at least to my knowledge he hasn’t presented any argument for why modernism is the only true philosophical position; his point is that modernism and Christianity are incompatible, and that if you adopt a purely modernist worldview, Christianity will be undone.
However, as Alister McGrath has written (“I Believe” – Exploring the Apostles Creed, pp 26):
Reason runs into difficulties when trying to cope with God. Alfred, Lord Tennyson made this point perfectly in his poem “The Ancient Sage”:
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven.
Belief in God, it need hardly be added, rests on solid foundations- even if paradoxically, as Tennyson suggests, it cannot be proved. Atheists and Christians alike take their positions as matters of faith. The former may like to try and represent their position as objective and scientific, but it is actually nothing of the sort.
Modern atheists, of course, will see this thinking as malarkey, as it is an argument based outside of the modernist teacup, or at least removes the argument from the materialist epistemology that they rely on. The “New” Atheists cannot seem to function outside of modernism or outside of materialism, because that simply is the box in which they have put themselves in. To interact with them on any meaningful way, you have to get in their box (or teacup).
And why would I want to do that?
You see, I’ve encountered God. It’s not just that I’ve had some spiritual experience, but that I know and have relationship with God. A modern atheist will, of course, toss this in the pile of non-observable claims and demand “evidence.” However, this presumes a Kantian or Platonic kind of dualism, which is certainly not a given. Classifying God and all experiences of God into the large category of Noumena in order to dismiss it entirely is, I think, to commit serious philosophical error; but for one who is committed to atheism, it is convenient, pragmatic error. Again, it requires a commitment to stay within the modernist teacup and to close your eyes should you ever attempt to look over the rim.
Modern atheists, however, are almost always not committed to requiring objective evidence in all areas of their lives; if they did, they would become “Spock”-like in their assessment of everything, including politics and relationships. Love would cease to be a many-splendored thing, and family life would have to be based on pragmatism rather than any emotional bond. It is contradictory for a materialist to claim “I know that I love my wife,” for he can know nothing of the kind; it is simply an unprovable claim by his own standards. However, materialism becomes essential when fending off any claims of God (although it has been shown many times how internally inconsistent these arguments against God are).
Operating from a more consistent approach in which you accept that there are ways of knowing that are not limited to that which is observable and measurable – that is, living outside of the teacup and taking in the banquet that surrounds it – we can look to the arguments, claims, challenges and ridicule of modern atheism and see how inane they really are. While I believe it is possible to climb in the teacup and expose the errors from within modernism, for the Christian to “prove” his own faith, it is simply not necessary.
You’re right… it is long, but it is interesting. Coyne of course, being a materialist, makes the same errors that Dawkins and the rest do, and so ends up in the same place. It would be interesting to read, for once, an analysis by a materialist who understands that the argument is not between faith and science (which is not an “ism” but merely a method of investigation), but between faith and the materialists.
A problem with people like Miller and Behe is that they also seem to not see where the real issues lie, and end up slightly schizophrenic.
Long but kind of interesting:
Seeing and Believing: The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail—from the New Republic.
You’re obviously not a follower of Hume.
The point of comparing the evaluate other religions with Christianity is for you to understand why I find your own claims to be shallow. You are Christian largely because you were raised Christian, and nothing has changed the worldview even if you are not in the same Christian tradition as you were raised.
To get an idea of what I mean you should listen to the podcast of the most recent show we did at Atheists Talk.
The foundations that McGrath refers to are taken as “givens,” resolved without calling the question. You still take it on faith that the Bible is a scripture faithful to a direct inspiration from God. I don’t take it as a given, and the more I learn about the history of the gathering of the scriptures the less likely it seems.
My belief system was your belief system and it failed me.
There are, of course, at least 2 issues here. One simply deals with the insufficiency of a materialist worldview, which leaves open the possibility of the existence of a supernatural, non-material world and one or more gods. As I’ve tried to explain in the past, evaluating truth claims between religions is a secondary matter.
So, your ex-wife may indeed have an ongoing “relationship” with a spiritual entity either claiming to be, or simply understood to be the so-called goddess. The Bible, both old and new Testaments, allow for the existence of lying, malicious and inferior spiritual entities.
So, when you ever get back to the point of trying to evaluate the claims of various gods and religions, let me know and we can deal with that. 😉
There are a number of differences between Christianity and other religious claims that clearly set it apart. As McGrath said in the above quote, “Belief in God, it need hardly be added, rests on solid foundations- even if paradoxically, as Tennyson suggests, it cannot be proved.” Belief in Christianity is not illogical; it simply rests on claims which include those outside of your belief system. (I should add that even from within modernism, evidence supports Christianity.)
I am also curious if you will apply the same sort of logic to other religions that you apply to your own. My ex-wife has a had a long-term relationship with her Goddess as much as you have with your God, and she defends it as vigorously as you do your relationship.
To accept your claim as you present it, you are asking me to accept the similar claims of people of non-Jehovah-religions.
I’m sayin’ I had the experience.
Mike, You’re proving my point.
And, you’re wrong about my assumptions. I may address that in my next post.
And, I doubt (being the skeptic that I am) that you encountered any pagan goddess, although I don’t doubt your experience. I am not just talking about subjective spiritual experience, but about an ongoing relationship. Again, next post.
I always tell my friends that the universe doesn’t revolve around whether one particular individual ‘believes’ in Christ or not.
Some will not believe. Jesus said that Himself.
Why some believe and some do not is THE question.
Only God knows.
For one to put down religious faith in God while observing the miraculous order of life and creation and attribute it all to chance is absolutely laughable and requires way more faith than I’ll ever have in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul said it best, “Claiming to be wise they beacame fools…”
You’ve encountered God. I have encountered the pagan Goddess. You’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s odd that the encounter produced the same exact experience that I had when I had previously encountered The Holy Spirit.
What you are crossing here is the idea that subjective experience, that which isn’t shared and which is revelation is an entirely different matter than objective; that which can be reliably shared.
You also make the assumption that atheists were born atheists, raised atheists and stubbornly refuse to look at “The other ways of knowing,” only to find that in those ways of knowing, the religions that claim exclusive access to the Truth are legion. If I were to accept your argument, I would also be in league to accept the argument of the Hindu, the Muslim, the Shintoist, the shaman, etc as each of them also “experience” their religion.
In order to convince an atheist that your argument has any merit you would need to show that there is an objective reason to have this sort of faith.
Now, as for love in that argument, you are being ridiculous and ludicrous. Love has both genetic and cultural roots and is not a surprising nor outlandish response to filial obligation.
Nor do we supplicate the works of nature, we study them and are in awe. I would hardly consider that the same sort of worship that requires submission as does Christianity.